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Corporations in Evolving Diversity:
Cognitions, Governance, and Institutions
Masahiko Aoki
Book Abstract
The 2008 financial crisis calls for a re-examination of the basic premise of the orthodox
shareholder-oriented model of the corporate firm and its governance. This book tries to
meet this challenge. It posits that the primary raison d’être of business corporations is
the organization of associative cognitive and physical actions to create corporate values
broader than shareholders’ values. It identifies five generic modes of organizational
architecture distinguished by discrete combinations of human cognitive assets among
management and workers, as well as their relationships to use-control rights of physical
assets that are provided by the investors. For each of those architectural modes a
particular governance structure is associated as an essentially self-enforcing agreement
among the three types of asset-holders. The selection of a corporate form from the
possible varieties is evolutionarily conditioned and institutionally linked to stable
outcomes of social and political games in which corporations are embedded and play.
The book looks at the nature of the evolving diversity of the global corporate landscape
and the rising importance of CSR that contribute to the accumulation of corporate social
capital. This evolving state appears to require the redefinition of the role of financial
markets as informational and governance infrastructures which are complimentary to
diverse corporate organizations, rather than as dominant principals of corporations.
Key words: financial crisis: corporate governance; organizational architecture; cognition;
institutions; co-evolution, corporate landscape, CSR, diversity
Chapter summary
Chapter 1 Introduction: What Do Corporations Do?
This introductory chapter first revisits the generic nature of corporations as perpetual
entities that first emerged in non-business domains such as religion, education, and city
learning before the birth of modern nation states. It prompts an inquiry into aspects of
business corporations such as associative cognitive systems, self-governing perpetual
entities, and so on that tended to be neglected in the orthodox approach to modern
corporations. It examines those aspects in the context of contemporary business
corporations by using game-theoretic language and tools. That is, varied forms of
corporate organizational architecture and governance are to be understood as stable
multiple equilibria of the organization field, while a particular choice from the possible
many forms may be conditional on equilibrium linkages to the outcomes of political and
social games that corporations play.
Key words: corporations, associative cognition, self-governance, political, and social
Chapter 2 Varied Frames of Corporate Cognition and Self-Governance
This chapter is concerned with the organizational architecture of business corporations
as a system in which cognitions are systematically distributed among the management
and the workers, while the investors supply cognitive tools. Specific features of the
relationships among them give rise to five generic modes of organizational architecture.
It is shown that, for each mode of organizational architecture, there is a particular mode
of governance that fits. It is characterized as a self-governing agreement among the
three parties that satisfies the conditions of organizational sustainability, fairness, and
informational economy, which transform business corporations into teams.
Key words: organizational architecture, corporate governance, team, cognitive assets,
Chapter 3 Political and Social Games Corporations Play
This chapter formulates political-exchange and social-exchange games that corporations
and their stakeholders play along with other agents in society. Multiple equilibria of the
political exchange game are identified as discrete forms of political states, and
institutional complementarity of each of them with a particular corporate governance
form is discussed. Agents, including corporations, also engage in social-exchange games
using social symbols to derive social payoffs and strategically calculate tradeoffs
between social and materialistic payoffs. CSR is understood as a means for corporations
to accumulate their own social capital in this game. The chapter then inquires why the
value of corporate social capital is partially internalized by share markets and what its
implications are to stakeholders’ interests, corporate governance, and social welfare.
Key words. Political-exchange game, institutional complementarities, social exchange
game, social capital, social payoff, CSR
Chapter 4 The Evolution of the Rules of the Societal Games
Based on the recent development of epistemic game theory, this chapter attempts to
resolve longstanding contested issues across social science disciplines about the nature
and origin of institutions. These issues include: institutions as a pre-play design vs.
spontaneous order, deontic constraints vs. rational choice, regularity of actions vs.
shared meanings, endogenous and exogenous views, and so on. It argues that for a
societal order to evolve through the recursive play of societal games, some social
cognitive categories such as formal laws, norms, rules, ritual, and organizations need to
mediate between physical actions and the behavioral beliefs of individual players. Thus,
pure methodological individualism must be laid to rest in institutional analysis. From
such perspectives this chapter describes how institutions evolve and what the roles of
business corporations can be in that process.
Key words. Institutions; institutional evolution; societal cognitive category;
methodological individualism; deontic constraints; mechanism design
Chapter 5 The Evolving Diversity of the Corporate Landscape
This chapter first depicts an increasing diversity of Japanese corporations in which a
non-traditional mode, characterized by market monitoring of relational employment,
becomes emergent side by side with other modes as complements. This mode is
interpreted as indicating the increasing essentiality of workers’ cognitive assets in
corporate cognitive systems and it is argued that similar phenomena are evolving in
other developed economies as well, modifying traditional national models. The chapter
discusses the economic merits, social consequences, and political agendas associated
with this emergent diversity in the global corporate landscape. Particularly it calls for
the re-definition of the role of financial intermediaries and markets as infrastructures
complementary to diverse corporate organizations as opposed to being their
omnipotent principals.
Keywords: Japanese corporations, , diversity, corporate landscape, varieties of